The issue is race and if that makes you squirm in your seat because it’s uncomfortable and complicated that’s fine. Unfortunately, the only way to heal the wounds of a pretty crappy past is to talk about how that crappy past affects the present.
Gabby is the first African American woman to win the all-around champion gold medal in the Olympics (not just in the U.S. but in the world!). Just let that accomplishment settle in your head–because it’s HUGE. It wasn’t enough for some, for Gabby to be the best, her hair just wasn’t up to par.
Here are some quotes from the haters:
“Gabby Douglas gotta do something with this hair! These clips and this brown gel residue aint it.”
“I wish someone could have helped make it look better since she’s being seen all over the world.”
Most of the hate came from Twitter. It was clear from the users’ profile pictures that most of the critics were African American women. Here’s what Gabby’s mom had to say about the incident, “I don’t think people realize sometimes that she doesn’t live with me. She lives with a White host family and they don’t know anything about taking care of her hair. And there’s no Black salons in their area [in Iowa]–not one. We had to work really hard to find a stylist to come and do her hair.”
Black hair does require a different kind of maintenance. It’s dry so it breaks off very easy, which is why many Black women don’t have very long hair. You have to add oils to it. You have to wrap it. You must sleep with a silk scarf otherwise the friction of your pillow will break it off. Yeah, there are differences. However, what Gabby’s mom says is basically an admission that her daughter’s hair is bad. She is basically saying, “Yeah, it’s bad, but it’s not her fault, so get over it.” She’s totally missing the point. There’s no such thing as good or bad hair. Never mind the fact that hair shouldn’t be overshadowing her amazing accomplishments. Never mind the fact that none of the other gymnasts have particularly special hair. Hair isn’t an Olympic or gymnastic standard. All gymnasts have the same plain old bun. No one is complaining about any of the White gymnasts’ hair. Here’s why:
If you’re not African American or you don’t have fine, curly, textured hair–you might be confused about what one girl’s hair has to do with race. I am Latina and Haitian and I have hair like Gabby’s. Hair is very complicated in Latin and African American communities and for me, personally, I consider it one of our horrible, deep, dark secrets.
Latin America was imperialized by Europeans and Africans were brought to North America as slaves. We all learn about this in history class, but it’s taught as just that–history–in the past and over with. Not too long ago, people of color, if they weren’t worthy of equal rights, certainly weren’t worthy of being called beautiful. They were considered just the opposite in fact: ugly, non-human and property. European features–White features–not only meant that you were a free person, it meant that you were an attractive person. This is why “Black hair” or “Nappy hair” is considered ugly. For a very long time, even when segregation was over (which was only 1968–pretty recent) having natural African American hair was considered dirty, unkempt and certainly not professional. Women would have to relax (chemically straighten) their hair to even be considered for employment.
In the 1970s the Black Power movements empowered many African Americans. Their motto was “Black is Beautiful” and many men and women wore their hair out in big, beautiful afros. In the 1980s that all changed. With more opportunities for women and even Black women, it was important to conform to what was considered professionally acceptable–meaning straight, fine hair. As more Black women began to appear in the media as celebrities, it was pretty obvious they were the ones with European features. Think Beyonce’s straight blond weave, narrow nose, and light tan skin. Think Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell. Yes, these women are of color, but they all have very European features.
If African American women only see these images of women with straight hair, lighter skin, and smaller noses (many of which are nose jobs) then that’s what they (we) are going to start to believe is beauty. There is a scarcity of Black women in the media as it is and the ones that are there certainly don’t represent the majority of us. Just look at Michelle Obama’s hair.
While I would like to think hair is a choice for every woman, it definitely has more significance for Black women. When you say Gabby’s hair is bad, you’re saying that Black women are only beautiful when they mimic White women. You’re saying that Black women should be striving to be like White women. That’s really sad. Though it’s understandable. If you’re told something about yourself enough, by enough people, you’ll start to believe it. It wasn’t just a few people who disliked African American people, it was a whole country that hated us, owned us, that degraded us, and wanted us to feel ugly. That kind of rejection can last a really long time, even after some law was passed saying everyone is equal. If society, laws, employers, TV, movies, and magazines tell you you’re ugly, you’re going to do everything to try and be beautiful. For many, beautiful = White.
If you like straightening your hair (I do) or wearing it natural that’s fine. Neither is wrong or a better way of representing your race. You just shouldn’t feel pressured to wear it one way or pressure others to do the same as you.
Though I am ashamed that it’s other African American women hating on Gabby–I get it. They’re mad that she is representing them in a way that society doesn’t consider beautiful. What’s ironic is that Gabby is representing Black women–Black features–on an international level in a way that many African American celebrities do not. They should be proud to see a girl with darker skin and freer hair winning Gold. Girls who look like her should be proud to look like her, they shouldn’t be telling her to conform because they have. Black beauty isn’t limited to the Halle Berrys of the world–it’s quite unfortunate when Black people can’t see that.
What do you think about Gabby’s hair controversy? Do you have African American hair? Let us know in the comments!